Six Tips for Looking for New Grants Management Software

Looking for New Grants Management Software

Evaluating grants management software options for your grantmaking organization can be a daunting task.  Not only are there many different software solutions to choose from with different features, benefits, and price points, but you also need to have an understanding of your organization’s processes, people, and needs to try to align them with whatever system you ultimately select.

 Keeping the big picture in mind can be hard when there are so many details and moving pieces to manage.  Here are some tips: 

  1. Talk to similar grantmaking organizations to see what grants management software they’re using and whether or not they like it. The more people you speak with the better chance you have of understanding the trends within your specific sector. Some solutions are a better fit for organizations with specific types of funding processes and needs. 
  1. Reach out to your applicants and reviewers to see if they have any recommendations or needs to keep in mind. Your goal should be to find a solution that benefits your users as much as your organization. Not only will this improve adoption and use after implementation, but it will help you sell your recommendation to the decision makers in your organization. 
  1. Make sure you understand the difference between your “must haves” and “nice to haves”. Of course you want a system that does everything, but keep in mind that no system has everything that everybody wants. And, the more custom a solution is, the higher the price tag. Understanding what you absolutely must have versus what you can live without will be crucial when narrowing the product list. 
  1. Engage both the decision makers and those who will use the system throughout the process. If everyone is on board in the beginning, you can prevent problems that may arise if a key player feels their voice hasn’t been heard when researching and selecting your proposed solution. 
  1. Keep an open mind regarding functions that are outside your existing process. Changing systems can present an opportunity to explore new and potentially better ways of doing things. A new system can have some features that might be able to remove steps from the process to save time, or make other improvements.  Often times, an organization can get caught up in existing processes and miss those opportunities. 
  1. When evaluating cost, keep in mind the time it takes for setup, implementation, and support. One of the goals of a grants management system is to allow you to reallocate the time you would have spent on clerical tasks to more meaningful, mission-related work. If you are going to spend a lot of time managing and supporting your users (i.e., colleagues, applicants, reviewers, and grantees), you may not be saving as much time, and therefore money, as you thought. Ease of use and good vendor support are key. 

What are your best tips?  Please use the comments section to add the tips you heard, or wish you had heard, when looking for a new grants management system.

Author: M. Dunbar
December 03, 2015, 02:05 PM

5 Tips for New Staff Making Grants Management Software Changes

Leading grants management software changes

Does this sound familiar? You recently started a new grants management job and are embarking on the tough journey of changing the grants management solution (or lack thereof). If only you could talk with someone who just went through this to get some advice…

Lucky for you, I did just that.

During the past year I worked with Sally* as she successfully convinced her new bosses and colleagues to change their grants management software. Afterwards, I spent some time with her discussing lessons learned and suggestions for others. Here are her pearls of wisdom.

  • Do Your Research: This isn’t merely market research, but also research within your organization. You need to understand the existing operations, including your organization’s unique challenges and inefficiencies. But, don’t forget to keep in mind what does work well. Once you understand the current state of affairs, you can start looking at different grants management solutions. Having learned what does and does not work well will help steer your conversations with the vendors. Make sure to get supporting data on your proposed solution that will help you “sell” it internally.
  • Expect Pushback: Even if, during your interviews, management expressed a desire to make changes to improve their process, don’t be surprised if these same individuals now seem opposed to the idea. Some people can embrace change in theory, but can’t seem to move forward when actually faced with it. This is likely to be even more the case if you weren’t tasked with this as the new hire.
  • Frame the Conversation: When responding to the inevitable naysayers, frame the conversation in terms of existing problems and how your solution will address them. This includes juxtaposing the existing software (if any) with the proposed software, and potentially other competitors, to show how your recommendation would have the most significant positive impact. Couching your ideas in that manner will make it harder for someone to reject them.
  • Engage Your Team: For some organizations, the grants management “team” is really an army of one. For those in a management position, you should involve your team during the entire process. You’re much more likely to get help in the areas above if they’ve felt it was genuinely a team decision and not a dictatorship. Additionally, having the support of the team goes a long way towards convincing the ultimate decision makers.
  • Set Expectations: Be careful when persuading your audience that you don’t oversell it. When you implement the new grants management solution, some things will work as expected while others may work better or worse. Don’t set yourself up for failure by promising the moon; you’ve done your research and your proposed solution is better, but nothing is perfect. When facing continued challenges, Sally closed the deal with, “Some things will work, some won’t, but we should give it a shot.”

*Name has been changed to protect the innocent.

Author: M. Dunbar
November 03, 2015, 01:49 PM

PhilanTech Partners with TechSoup - Grant Management Software

TechSoup Logo

PhilanTech is delighted to announce that we have partnered with TechSoup to offer PhilanTrack® online grants management software for nonprofits to TechSoup's members. 

TechSoup is a nonprofit that connects other nonprofits with technology products and resources to make informed decisions about technology.

With PhilanTrack, TechSoup members can:

  • Find funders: Search currently-available funding opportunities, research past grants awarded by potential funders, and research contacts in the funding organization.
  • Write proposals efficiently: Easily reuse content from past proposals when writing new grant requests and avoid reinventing wheels in each new grant proposal.
  • Manage funder relationships: Track contact information and interactions with funders and prospective funders to build relationships and institutional memory.
  • Track deadlines and requirements: Track deadlines for proposals and progress reports and receive automated email reminders about them.
  • Store grant-related documents: Store your organization's 501(c)(3) determination letter, audited financial statements, annual reports, and other documents requested by funders in PhilanTrack's document library.
  • And more!

TechSoup members can apply for discounted access to PhilanTrack via the TechSoup website:

If your organization is not a TechSoup member, learn about TechSoup and other discounted and donated technology products available for qualified nonprofits.

 

TechSoup and the TechSoup logo are registered trademarks of TechSoup Global, used with permission.
Author: Dahna Goldstein
October 31, 2013, 03:00 PM

Grants Management System for Nonprofits - Convincing Your Board

board

Perhaps you’ve heard these things before:

  • "We don’t need software for that."
  • "Our current process works just fine."
  • "We have a donor management system.  Can’t we just use that to manage our grants, too?"

There are many versions of those statements, but they all amount to the same thing: your board or senior management indicating that investing in grant-specific software isn't high on their priority list.

But you know that grants management software will make your job easier, and will also help your organization raise more money and direct more resources to your mission.  So how can you make the case with your board or senior management?

While every organization is different, there is one common thread: nonprofits exist to pursue a mission and make the world better in one way or another.  Your job in convincing your board to invest in a grants management system is to help them see that the system will help your organization better pursue its mission.

Here are a few things to try:

  • Quantify how much time you (and your colleagues, if other people in your organization are involved in finding, applying for, and management grants) are spending on all of your grant-related activities.  Include things like:
    • Researching new funding opportunities
    • Communicating with prospective funders
    • Communicating with current funders
    • Tracking down documents submitted to funders in the past
    • Managing documents that funders request (e.g., 501(c)(3) determination letter, audited financial statements, etc.)
    • Keeping track of deadlines for proposals and progress reports
    • Writing grant proposals
    • Writing progress reports
    • Etc.
  • If you – and any other staff members who work with you to pursue grants – were spending less time on one or more of those activities, what could you spend that time doing?  Would those activities be putting staff time to better use?  Would they help your organization raise more money?
  • Articulate your current challenges with grantseeking and how they would be solved with an online grants management system?
  • Talk with your board or senior management about your organization's fundraising goals.  Are you consistently meeting your fundraising goals?  Are you striving to raise more money in general?  More grant funds in particular?  Does your organization want to diversify its funding sources so that it isn’t overly reliant on one source of funding?  How does getting more grants, with more efficient use of staff time, fit into those goals?
  • More broadly, talk with your board or senior management about your organization’s mission, and what resources are required to pursue your mission as best you can.  Can more resources be obtained and put to use if your organization raises more grant funds? 
    • In some cases, boards and senior management may be hesitant to spend money on software that could be spent on activities that directly pursue mission objectives.  In that case, you can try to remind your board or senior management that an investment in software is not a direct tradeoff – it will position you to raise more funds that can then be dedicated to pursuing your mission.
    • On a related note, the Overhead Myth is trying to help tackle this problem.  Investing in things that help your organization grow will help your organization better meet its mission. 

Share your tips for making the case with your board and senior management in the comments below, or request a demo to learn how PhilanTrack can help streamline your grantseeking.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/the_warfield/4992455554/
Author: Dahna Goldstein
July 24, 2013, 11:40 AM

Friends Don’t Let Friends Require Paper Grant Applications

paper grant applications

While many grantmakers have moved their application processes online, a large number of grantmakers still require their applicants to submit grant proposals and progress reports on paper or via email.

Some foundations have been using paper applications for a long time and feel there is no reason to change, but there is a significant cost to inefficient grants management – to both the foundation and its grantees, and ultimately to the social impact that both are trying to achieve.

The Center for Effective Philanthropy determined that 13% of every foundation grant dollar is spent administering the grant.  Across the nonprofit sector in the US, nearly $6 billion per year is spent on grants administration.  That’s a lot of lost impact!  For a foundation that awards $1,000,000 in grants annually, $130,000 is spent administering the grants.  The grantees bear most of that cost, but both the grantmaker and the grant recipient benefit from streamlining the process.

Here are seven reasons that friends should not let friends require paper grant applications:

  • Data entry (and re-entry) is time consuming and error-prone.  Once a paper is application is received, it needs to be logged and tracked.  With paper (or email) applications, someone at the foundation has to enter information into a grants database, Excel sheet, or other tracking system.  That data entry process is both time consuming and error-prone.  With an integrated online application and grants management system, there is no data entry that has to be done by someone at the foundation.  Information from the application automatically populates the grants database, saving both time and the possibility for errors.
  • Information submitted on paper can’t be easily aggregated or analyzed.  Increasingly, grantmakers want to be able to look at information across a group of grants to see how much money was awarded over a period of time, analyze information about the recipient organizations, or see the impact the grants had on the issues that the foundation is trying to address.  With paper applications, grant information such as people served, intended outcomes, etc., can’t be easily accessed and aggregated – at least not without someone at the foundation copying and pasting – or re-typing – that information.  With an integrated online system, reports on the distribution of grant funds as well as outcome and demographic information – or anything else that the foundation wants to track – can be generated at a few button clicks, using information that the grantee or applicant submitted in the grant proposal or progress report.  In fact, PhilanTrack is specifically designed to aggregate grantee-entered information to help grantmakers evaluate the effectiveness and impact of their grants and programs.  And PhilanTech’s staff will be happy to advise your organization on how to take advantage of the system and its capabilities to support your grantmaking goals.
  • Real-time access to information. Trustees, reviewers and other stakeholders are increasingly not in the same geographical location as the foundation’s physical office.  With paper applications, someone (either the applicant or a foundation staff member or volunteer trustee) has to print many copies of each application and send them across the country or the globe prior to a board meeting.  Many foundation professionals have lost count of the number of hours they spend each year pulling together board packets with collated copies for each trustee of each proposal under consideration.  Moving online can also be a great way for family foundations to engage younger family members who may just be getting involved in the foundation.
  • Trees.  Think of the trees!  Printing multiple paper copies of every application and every report costs countless trees per year.  Moving the process online enables all foundations – but particularly foundations that fund environmental causes – to align their internal grantmaking processes with their missions.
  • Reducing ineligible or unqualified applications.  As clear as grantmakers make submission guidelines, hopeful nonprofits frequently submit funding requests even if they’re ineligible.  Two features of online application systems help foundations save time and resources by discouraging that activity: eligibility quizzes and letters of intent.  Eligibility quizzes can be tailored to the foundation’s specific guidelines and pose a series of questions to applicants.  Applicants must affirmatively answer that they meet each component of the foundation’s funding guidelines.  If an applicant does not meet one of the eligibility criteria, the organization is prevented from submitting an application, thereby significantly reducing the number of ineligible or unqualified applicants.  Letters of inquiry, as we’ve written about before, can effectively help reduce the administrative burden on both the grantmaker and the applicant with a short version of the application to determine whether it’s worth the time required from both parties for the nonprofit to submit a full application.
  • Contact management and centralization of information.  Managing grants requires managing a lot of information about the organization – from simple data like the organization’s address to more complex information like the intended outcomes of a funded project, and everything in between.  Managing contact information for grantees is important, and tracking interactions is as well.  With an online grants management system that also manages applications and progress reports, all grantee- and grant-related information is in one centralized location.  You can look up a grant, see what the organization outlined in the proposal, who the grant contact is and send that person an email or see when the next report is due – all with just a few a button clicks, rather than having to track down the paper copy of the proposal, then look up the relevant grant in the grants database, and the contact information in Outlook.
  • Continuity and institutional memory.  Over time, most organizations develop their own systems and processes for filing – and finding – documents.  But what happens if there is staff turnover?  With an online grants management system, the organization’s complete grantmaking history is stored in an organized, easy-to-access and easy-to-use online location.  If a new family member joins the board, or if the program officer or grant manager leaves, her successor can easily pick up the mantle and see the organization’s whole history, which reports are due when, and what information was submitted in each proposal.  And all of that information is available at a couple of button clicks rather than by pouring through tons of documents in filing cabinets.

Moving to online grant applications doesn’t mean automatically accepting unsolicited proposals.  If your foundation has an invite-only grantmaking process, you can still gain all of the benefits of moving your application online while only inviting the organizations that you wish to have apply.  Read more here about why it makes sense to move your application online even if your organization doesn’t accept unsolicited proposals.

PhilanTrack is specifically designed to manage the full lifecycle of grants.  In addition to streamlining the process for grantmakers, PhilanTrack helps your grantees and applicants manage their grantseeking more efficiently so that your grant dollars go further towards supporting the programs and services they are intended to fund.

To see how PhilanTrack can save you from using paper grant applications, contact us for a demonstration, or download our guide to getting started with online applications.

 

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/fsse-info/516326731
Author: Dahna Goldstein
March 07, 2013, 10:30 AM

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